MetroSafe taking action after 911 Twitter account surfaces

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by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on January 5, 2010 at 7:24 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 5 at 7:25 PM

Poll:
Should the 911 operator get in trouble for making fun of callers on Twitter?

MetroSafe officials in Louisville say they are taking action after a WHAS11 News report uncovered a 911 operator's Twitter account, called "funny911calls." 

It appears the employee, identified by MetroSafe as Meghan Atwood, was using the Twitter account while taking 911 calls, and posting call information and criticism of 911 callers online.

After the WHAS11 story Monday, MetroSafe supervisors reminded employees Tuesday of "the strict prohibition against the use of personal electronic or communications devices within our center, unauthorized release of information  as well as the expectation of professional conduct."

MetroSafe is also reviewing Atwood's Internet use at work and comparing the time stamps of her Twitter activity to when she was on duty.

"We take over 3000 phone calls a day, and up a 1.4 million per year,"  said Doug Hamilton, MetroSafe Executive Director, "This is obviously not an example of what we do everyday."

MetroSafe is investigating whether communications specialist Meghan Atwood was at work when tweeting about 911 calls, a violation of policy.  The tweets offer a running commentary.

On December 6th:

"Why do women use the pregnant card for everything?  example... I heard shots fired and I'm pregnant. He's yelling at me and I'm pregnant, They playing loud music and I'm pregnant...."

On December 23rd:

"Guy wanted to see police cause he saw his daughter in an X rated movie.  That's gunna be awkward at Christmas."

UofL Psychologist and workplace behavior expert Michael Cunningham has studied the use of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.  Our report caught his attention.

"I thought there were two things going on simultaneously,"  Cunningham explained, "One, a lack of training to make it absolutely clear that that was inappropriate behavior, and then the usual adolescent satirical commentary on the absurdity of life around them."

While Hamilton does not excuse the "tweets." he understands the humor.

"I think you've probably seen and heard and have had plenty of opportunities to see that public safety has somewhat of a distorted sense of humor,"  Hamilton said, "And I think a lot of that has to do with it's their way of dealing with tragedy.  Constant tragedy, one after the other after the other."

In fact, one tweet indicates that it was Atwood who took the 911 call of the Bolling Avenue house fire that killed a ten year old girl last month.

And a tweet on December 5th reads:

"Had 2 dead body calls right b4 my lunch break. Needless to say i wasn't hungry anymore."

Social networking sites encourage such public sharing of life's day to day moments.  Each user has to be their own filter.

"The notion that you merely have to stop that because you have a job doesn't always occur to people and it really does require careful training,"  Cunningham observed.

The "funny911calls" account on Twitter was pulled on Monday, as WHAS11 investigated.

We're told Meghan Atwood has contacted her union steward, but we don't know what disciplinary action she faces.  In Atwood's two years and seven months on the job, she has received one tardy notice.

And her tweets also reflect that she's clever on the job -- describing one instance when a man called 911 from a hotel room. He couldn't breathe. 
 
"The way I found his room was had the fire dispatcher talk on radio and when I could hear her in background I told them to knock on that door."

It's a story she may tell again but not on Twitter at work.

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